Monthly Archives: April 2011

Galatians 6:6-10 – God Is Not Mocked; April 20, 2011

Galatians 6:6-10 – God Is Not Mocked

It is a rare thing to hear someone attempting to intentionally mock God in church, especially from the pulpit.  It just doesn’t happen that often.  I don’t know that I have ever even heard of a time that it actually happened.  Intentionally.

Unintentionally, however, is a completely different ballgame.  I would love to say that it never happens in our church or that I’ve never done it myself, but I would be lying.  I can name specific times in my teaching that I’ve taught something based solely on my own understanding without having received insight from the Spirit.  Some of those times were simply due to my immaturity in the faith and some of those times were due to my arrogance.  But there can be no denying that I have openly, albeit unintentionally, attempted to mock God.  Now the funny thing about the phrase “mock God” is that it is practically equivalent to an ant walking up to a person and kicking them in the toe and walking away as if they had accomplished some great victory.  We as finite, imperfect beings are never in a position to look down upon God.  It is never a position that we find ourselves in.  We may feel that we are, but it is never the case.

So what is Paul’s point?  And if this is something that we do unintentionally, how do we keep from doing it?  The answer to both is found in the mystery of what Paul has been trying to communicate throughout the whole letter.  When we are walking in the Spirit we do not ever find ourselves in a place where we are now in control or have a full complete understanding of any given situation.  In other words, we never pretend to acknowledge that we have fully grasped the will of God for all individuals or that living by the Spirit always looks a certain way.  Instead, we humbly acknowledge our need for grace and for the Spirit to open our eyes to see what is true.  Only then can we sow to the Spirit.  Even if good things are taught from the pulpit or done in our lives then we are sowing to the flesh if the Spirit does not lead them, and in the end those “good” things that we have planted end up being corrupted because they were done apart from the Spirit.  Walking in the Spirit allows for certain things in the life of one person that it will not allow in the life of another.  For instance, tattoos.  It is perfectly within God’s plan to command one person to not get a tattoo while allowing another to get them to his heart’s content. We could go down the list of hundreds of issues that the people have condemned as against God’s will, that do not universally cover all people even without bringing culture into the argument.

Let me be very clear here.  I am not talking about relativity here.  I am not saying that every choice is defined by how someone hears from the Spirit.  There are things that a believer should never do because they are outside of how God has designed the universe to be.  Drunkenness, sexual immorality, homosexuality, theft, murder, and things of the like are all condemned in Scripture, and these will not be contradicted by the Spirit.  But there are other peripheral issues that we must find our answers in the work of the Spirit in our lives as He unfolds the truth to us.  Too often we get so caught up on forcing what the Spirit has commanded us to do on others, that we miss the work that the Spirit is trying to do in us.  We become conceited and feel more holy or righteous than that other person because we never got a tattoo.  It’s silliness at best.  I once knew a man who felt led by the Spirit to never go into a movie store because the images on the movie covers might cause him to stumble.  I always thought of him as I walked through the movie store.  This man never condemned the rest of us for going into a movie store, but he would challenge us to let go of silly things in order to keep ourselves from sin.  We must all be ready to give up things in accordance with the Spirit, but be careful not to look at someone else’s life and demand that they walk as you are walking when the Spirit has not asked of them what He has asked of you.   We put ourselves as equal to God when we demand others to walk just like us, and in this we mock God.  Now whether its intentional or unintentional is not the point. We do it.  We place ourselves as the Spirit in the lives of another and plant seeds in the flesh, and those seeds will bear corrupted fruit.

I want to make sure that we are seeing everything clearly.  I am not saying that we can never speak into the lives of another.  Like we talked about with bearing one another’s burdens, we must be careful not to jump to our own perspective when it comes to judging someone else.  Sometimes, someone might be doing something that is peripheral, but in the slavery of sin instead of the freedom of Christ.  We must be sensitive to being used by the Spirit for the sanctification of another.  This is always done with love and mercy.  Too often we miss that aspect and come down with fierce wrath and judgment.  We are to be used by the Spirit, we are not to become the Spirit for another.  Lord, help us to sow by Your Spirit.  And may we trust the work You are doing in the lives of those around us.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

The Cross – Easter 2011

The Cross – Easter 2011

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 1:18

In a culture that does not believe in absolute truth, where individuals are encouraged to define themselves by their own rational determinations, the Cross is often stripped of its power on behalf of the individual.  The Cross is no longer a symbol of God’s wrath being poured out on the spotless Lamb.  It is no longer a reminder of our constant state of depravity.  It is no longer something that humbles us under it’s own weight.  It is an ornament we wear around our necks or a design on our t-shirts.  It is a comfortable blanket that allows us to have a clear conscience as we pursue our own desires in this world.  We want all the forgiveness and loves that is granted us by the Cross, but we want nothing to do with the refiner’s fire that allows us to truly experience the power of the Cross.  To our culture the Cross becomes another way of alleviating our guilt so that we can continue to live as we have always lived.  This is why the true word of the Cross is folly to our culture.  This is why so many churches today refuse to preach the word of the Cross.  This is why Christians in America are running the name of Christ through the mud for the sake of their own egos.

The message of the Cross drives us to our knees.  Makes us cry out in horror at how often and how heinously we have profaned the Holy name of God.  It is a message that forces us to forsake our former way of life on behalf of the life Christ wants to live in us.  It draws us weeping into the throne room of God to bring Him worship and adoration that, since our birth, had been fully given to us even at times in His name.  It makes us uncomfortable and uneasy.  It beckons us to come and die.  It reminds us of how dirty our best efforts have been.  It even reveals how filthy our greatest accomplishments have been apart from Him.  Those of us who have died have felt the sting of the Spirit crucifying our flesh.  And the strangest thing of all is that once the Spirit has crucified the flesh, there is birthed within you a desire to see it die every day.  You can’t stand knowing that it has survived the morning.  And so we remember the Cross “carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10).”

No one comes to know the joy of Christ’s resurrection without first feeling the sting of dying to himself.  I am not suggesting that we somehow feel the punishment that Christ bore for us on the Cross.  The punishment born for us was far greater than simply feeling pain of the scourge or the blows of the soldiers’ fists or the point of the nails or the suffering of hanging on the Cross.  Christ bore our punishment, but we now must bear our cross.  In bearing our cross, we gladly crucify what is worthless within us.  The desires that distract us from Him and His glory are gladly sacrificed.  The dreams that further our comfort and happiness at the expense of His glory are gladly laid aside.  This looks different for everyone, but make no mistake all who have counted the cost and died to themselves to follow Christ have felt the sting of a crucified flesh.

Now we come to the power of God.  Now we get to what allows a person to rejoice at the foot of the Cross.  For the one who has had their eyes opened by the Spirit, who has felt the sting of their flesh being crucified, can now overflow with worship, thankfulness, joy and adoration at the God who has given Himself to such as we are.  We rejoice that we will one day receive our reward, and our reward is HIM.  How glorious a God we serve that sacrifices His Son to reconcile us unto Himself.  This is the Gospel, the Good News.  We who were once alienated and hostile in mind, have been reconciled through the Cross that we may take part with Him in His resurrection.  Too many of those in churches this Sunday have overlooked or simply ignored the beginning portion of the Gospel presented here, and jumped straight to the end.  In doing so, they have traded the truth of God for a lie.  They have made themselves blind and would lead those who are also blind.  Let us not forget that until all is fulfilled in Christ’s return or at our departure from this world, the Cross will ever be a place for broken, unrestored humanity to worship in tears and repentance, putting to death the flesh that resides in us in Hope and Faith that through the work of the Spirit we will one day receive HIM.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 6:1-5 – Bearing Burdens; April 13, 2011

Galatians 6:1-5 – Bearing Burdens

I have often noted a troubling trend in the hearts of Christians in regards to bearing the burdens of another, especially those relatively immature in their faith.  I say this not judgingly, but from experience as I look back on my own life.  The trend goes something like this:  someone I know is struggling, I am not struggling in that certain area, I know better than that person because I am not struggling, I will correct the flaw in them out of my own understanding.  This may not be exactly how most people word it in their own minds, but make no mistake this is the heart of how most of us approach bearing another’s burden.  Every now and then we drift into the over-empathetic mode and start trying to struggle vicariously through the struggles of another an in so doing we bear with that person in their struggle.  Both responses are not only sinful, but show a deep disregard for the work of the Spirit in both the lives of the person struggling and ourselves.  This idea presented in these five verses directly correlates with Paul’s warning in 5:26.  Most of us approach bearing one another’s burdens as if we were God’s gift to that person at that specific time, and therefore we know exactly what to do.  How pathetic we are sometimes in regards to the work of the Spirit.

As I have previously stated, this is something that I must be very careful of in my own life.  I am a rescuer by nature.  Part of this is innate in me as a man and part of it is glorified fantasy based on years of wanting to be a superhero flying around and rescuing people.  Especially now as a pastor/teacher in a church, I must be very careful not to get puffed up when someone comes to me for counseling or with sin in their lives.  Paul is very clear that we have nothing to bring to the table when it comes to saving someone from their transgression.  In verse 3, Paul says we are really nothing, and if we think we are something we deceive ourselves.  The constant position of the follower of Christ is one of humility, recognizing that we are nothing, have nothing, can give nothing outside the work of the Spirit in our lives.  A Spirit that manifests itself in the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22).  Most of us when approaching someone struggling in sin will take a posture of heroism, standing over them with our capes flapping in the wind ready to pull them out of their miry pit with our super spiritual strength.  A dangerous and ultimately sinful posture that usually drives the individual deeper into the mire or simply encourages them to find their own strength just as we have, both push away from God.

This is what Paul is trying to remedy in the hearts of the Galatians.  1 Peter 5:6-7 commands us to humble ourselves before the Lord and cast all our cares, anxieties and burdens upon Christ because He cares for us.  This is the heart of bearing one another’s burdens.  We don’t come along side and simply continue to carry the weight with our own strength coming along side the strength of another.  We help and encourage the one struggling to bring that burden before Christ, to give it all over to Him and trust Him to do the work of transformation in our hearts.  That is the sign of the spiritually mature.  The one walking in the Spirit doesn’t have all the answers.  The one walking in the Spirit can’t fix everything.  The one who is surrendered to the Spirit’s work in their lives will always help guide those struggling into the arms and wisdom of Christ.  There is no other place for us to find rest and peace.  There is no other place for us to find answers.  Only in Him are our burdens lifted.

I want to be very clear on something.  I am not saying that you should never give a word of advice or counsel to someone struggling.  I am not saying that your experience is worthless and cannot be used to help another.  What I am trying to get through to all of us is that we are nothing.  So if we depend on our own wisdom or experience as what is going to help someone we tend to fall into sin.  That is why Paul warns about being tempted in the midst of trying to help someone.  We are rarely tempted in that moment to sin as the person struggling is sinning.  But we will be tempted with conceit or envy as Paul warned in 5:26.  We are tempted into thinking that our insight is what can really help this person, with no acknowledgement of the Spirit’s work in our lives or how inadequate we really are in transforming the heart of another.  We are to stand in the gap for others, love others as Christ has loved us, show people the love, grace and mercy of God, encourage and build them up with the Truth, and even at times give a Word FROM THE SPIRIT to push them towards Christ.  For some of us this practice will take a bit of undoing in the way we approach bearing the burdens of another or counseling someone through a struggle.  Many times it is enough to simply listen and pray without ever speaking advice or counsel.  Sometimes it’s simply pointing someone to Scripture and allowing the Spirit to do the rest.  Then there are the times when we are given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Spirit into the lives of individuals.  What an honor to share in the work of the Spirit.  And the most beautiful thing is that as we learn how to bear one another’s burdens as Scripture commands us to do, we are all changed.  It is not only the one who is struggling who is transformed.  But all who bear the weight of the burden are transformed and in that transformation we learn to love Christ as we ought.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 2; April 6, 2011

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 2

 

As we delve into the second part of Paul’s discourse about Flesh and Spirit, let’s review the heart of what Paul is talking about.  For the previous 4 ½ chapters, Paul has been dancing around this point in hopes of being able to connect with his readers hearts and minds about what they are battling against.  The Galatians were not simply battling another way of getting to God, they weren’t discussing different terms that really get you to the same thing.  They were talking about two fundamentally and contradictory ways of living.  Paul is never shy about drawing hard lines, and thankfully he follows the example of Christ in this.  In verses 16-25, Paul is going to make a very clear distinction: in life you are either living in the Flesh or you are living in the Spirit and there is not place along life’s path that the two meet.  As Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14,

 

“Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

 

Last time we talked about living by the Flesh, and so this week we will talk about living in the Spirit.

 

First, it is important that we look at who the Spirit is and what He has to do with our lives.  The Spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, or Helper is the third person in the Trinity.  The Trinity consists of the God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Spirit (the focus of our discussion at present).  The Spirit is just as much fully God as the Father and the Son and serves to help us understand the mysteries of God.  This is why Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Helper in John chapter 15.  We are unable to understand even the most basic of spiritual truths without the Spirit’s guidance.  The Spirit is the initiator of our faith and makes things clear when our pride and finitude clouds our understanding.  The Spirit specifically reveals Christ to us.  The disciples had very little understanding of who Christ was in His time here on earth and it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost that Christ became clear to them.  So get this, the disciples who walked with Jesus for three years, who were taught privately, face-to-face by Jesus about who He was and what He came to do, could not understand the message of the Gospel without the Spirit’s help.  Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, an extremely intelligent man, capable of understanding complex philosophical, theological, and psychological truths could not see that Jesus was the Messiah even though he most likely heard Jesus teach personally until the Spirit revealed to Him the Gospel.  Let us ponder these things and ask ourselves this question: If these men of varying degrees of intelligence, who saw Jesus face-to-face, some even knew Him intimately, could not understand the Gospel without and how it should work in our lives without the help of the Spirit, how dependent are we on the Spirit’s power to understand the Gospel?

 

As children of the Enlightenment, we have been raised with the idea that if we simply try hard enough and apply ourselves, we can understand complex ideas and ways of thinking.  This has bred a tremendous amount of swagger in the hearts and minds of Western thinkers.  This is why religion and Christianity are mostly looked down upon even with the various Western religions.  We have simply come to an age where we have understood God on our own and even become so advanced in our thinking that we no longer need Him at all.  And most of us are trained from childhood that with the proper amount of dedication and diligence can achieve any level of understanding.  This is simply not the case.  Especially when it comes to the things of God.  The American church has reasoned away the things of God.  We have read His book from cover to cover and we now know, based on our small, limited perspective, what He really means when He says what He says.  So today you will find such crazy ideas running through “Christianity” that say that there is no such thing as Hell, God wants to make you healthy, wealthy and wise, God would never encroach on man’s free will and God ultimately needs you and me to fulfill His plan for the world.  God forgive us for how we have arrogantly taken Your Word and drug it through the mud for the sake of making much of ourselves.

 

The Spirit’s work in us is not a consummation of our intellectual endeavors.  We are incapable of understanding the things of God which is why we need the Spirit.  1 Corinthians 2:10-16 says this,

 

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

 

Paul here in referring to the ones who have the “mind of Christ” is not referring to anyone outside of faith in Christ.  No one stumbles into the Spirit on accident and then can understand the things of God.  We come humbly, submissively, meekly to Him and He fills us with wisdom.  We don’t learn it.  We don’t study for it.  We simply are given it.  This cannot create swagger because to the one in whom this process takes place, he knows that the wisdom and insight is not from his own mind but from the Lord.  And it remains with the Lord.  We don’t keep it for ourselves.

 

We must first have this understanding that even when things of the Spirit have been revealed to us we have not discovered them by our own effort, and then we are ready for those things to bear fruit in our lives.  Galatians 5:22 gives us the fruit of the Spirit.  I want to point out a very specific and key factor in the fruit of the Spirit: the fruit is singular not plural.  This can often grow confusing since Paul names several aspects of the fruit, but make not mistake it is all one.  Just like the road is narrow.  Yet another distinction from the “works (plural) of the flesh” in verse 19, for wide is that road.  The fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  If the spirit is working in our lives and we are allowing it to be our wisdom and understanding, this fruit is going to be evidence of that.  People trying to get the fruit of the Spirit apart from the Spirit will look at this like a to do list of things they need to work on.  They will set out to try and be more loving as they define love.  Or they will try and be more kind as they define kindness. Or they will try and have self-control as they have defined self-control.  What they fail to see is that on their own as they are working on love they will most likely miss peace.  While they are trying to be more kind they will lack joy.  As they try and practice self-control they will fail to be kind.  What we fail to see with our own understanding is that every aspect works together to make each aspect more sweet.  And that sweetness can only be found in the Spirit.  It can only be found as we abide in Christ.

 

Living in the Spirit is not a one shot deal, just as dying to yourself is not just something you do once.  We must daily seek the wisdom of the Spirit to lead us and guide us through every moment of every day.  We must find ourselves in a constant state of humility and surrender.  My prayer is that we all allow the Spirit to examine our lives and show us where we have been trying to get to the fruit of the Spirit by jumping the fence and stealing it off the tree.  That He would show us where we have pursued one aspect of the fruit at the cost of another aspect.  May we confess with our mouths and with our lives that we have tried to get the fruit of the Spirit by our own effort and understanding.  And may that confession lead us into the Spirit.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Sprit Part 1; March 30, 2011

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 1

 

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul finally begins to draw upon the true heart of his whole discussion with the church.  He is no longer pulling punches and using word pictures, metaphors, or allegories.  He is going to use plain language to explain what the Galatians are really struggling against.  They are not struggling with a man, a group, or a certain denomination. The Galatians are struggling with their very flesh, their very nature.  Paul up until this point has made very clear distinctions, contrasting ideas, alluding to this point.  First he uses the distinction between his Gospel which is from Christ and the “gospel” preached by the Jews which usurped Paul’s Gospel after his departure.  From there he goes into several different contrasting scenarios: faith vs. the Law, Law vs. the Promise, sons vs. slaves, Hagar vs. Sarah, and freedom vs. slavery.  All of these are simpler ways of discussing the battle between the living by the Spirit or living by the flesh.

 

For this part of our discussion we will focus on the flesh.  What does it mean to live in the flesh?  What are the results of such a life?  Living in the flesh can best be described by Romans 14:23 when Paul says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  Paul in this context is trying to distinguish what the Spirit allows and does not allow in the life of the believer.  Some said you could eat meat sacrificed to idols while others strongly stated that you could not.  Both were wrong.  Now this is not a text that advocates moral ambiguity as many suppose.  It instead advocates a life defined not by what our human minds think and understand, but a life led totally and without exception by the Spirit of God through faith.  Paul in Galatians will make it plain that a life not lived by the Spirit is lived by the flesh.  Paul lists sins committed by the body for pleasure (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality), for personal gain or control (idolatry, sorcery), selfish ambition (enmity, strife, jealousy, envy), and sins that numb us to our surroundings (drunkenness and orgies).  All of these are readily found in people claiming to know Christ but not allowing their lives to be changed by Him.  They refuse the active, constant work of the Spirit and only choose to pick up the mantle when it pleases them to do so.

 

Paul’s warning warns not against atheism or another competing religion.  His warning is to those who know the Gospel, attend church, attempt to be “good” people, but who ultimately miss the Kingdom of God because their lives were lived in the flesh and not the Spirit.  The list that Paul makes certainly has many actions that would readily be recognized publicly as sin, but also included are private sins (idolatry, sexual immorality, impurity, sorcery, jealousy, envy, and even drunkenness).  In addition to the list Paul also gives this disclaimer, “and things like these” meaning that this is by no means an exhaustive list of what it means to live by the flesh.  Matthew 7:13 warns us that the way to destruction is wide and easy, drawing the parallel that living by the flesh comes in all different flavors.  Some choose the route of murderers and thieves while others fall into self-righteousness and religion like the Pharisees.  All lead to destruction.  All are walking in the flesh.  None get to enter the rest that Christ has prepared for His children.  So we must now examine ourselves in light of God’s Word, are we living by the flesh or by the Spirit?  Next time we will talk about what it looks like to walk in the Spirit.  Paul gives us some very specific markers that help us see our lives through the eyes of the Spirit.  Ultimately though, we all must allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts, showing us where we are walking in the flesh.  Some of the things that you do that you think are ok could be areas where you have resisted the Spirit and are walking in the flesh.  May we all surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT